DNA in Archaeology with Jennifer Raff



Episode 50 of the Archaeological Fantasies is live, and Ken and I were able to finally sit down with someone who knows quite a bit about the use of DNA and genetics in archaeology. Jennifer Raff, who’s covered all this wonderfully over at her own blog Violent Metaphors, was just the podcast guest I’ve been looking for to help us sus out all the ins and outs of genetic evidence in archaeology.

We’ve mentioned Jennifer and her co-author Deborah A. Bolnick’s work before when Ken and I talked about the Solutrean-Clovis hypothesis. Her and Dr. Bolnick’s paper really digs into the supposed genetics that are supposed to support this rather flawed hypothesis.

I’m not going to rehash all of this in this post, Jennifer has don the lions share on her blog and paper, and then again on the podcast. I suggest you go give it all a read and a listen . It really clarifies questions I had about ancient genetics and prehistoric DNA.

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Categories: Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway, Podcast, Women in Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Archaeological Fantasies and the genetic history of the Americas

We recently had Jennifer Raff on the Podcast (it went live Monday). This is a repost from her excellent blog where she talks about her paper that we mentioned in the show.

Violent metaphors

The excellent podcast Archaeological Fantasies recently had me on as a guest for a wide ranging discussion on genetics. We covered everything from the genetic prehistory of the Americas to issues surrounding ancestry testing companies. Here’s a link to the episode (apologies for the fact that I kept cutting in and out–apparently our university wireless connection isn’t very good).

Since so much of our discussion focused on haplogroup X2a and models for ancient American prehistory, I decided to break from the normal tradition here at VM and actually re-publish a post to make it easier for people to get answers to any questions they might have. And if you have specific questions about content from the podcast, please feel free to leave them in the comments on this post.

This post was originally published last year to address some questions that Deborah Bolnick and I were getting about our paper…

View original post 1,356 more words

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Ciudad Blanca or The Lost City of the Monkey God.

lcotmg af49

In the most recent episode of the Archaeological Fantasies podcast we interviewed Chris Begley about the mysterious Ciudad Blanca aka the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God.

Like many fictional places in the world, Ciudad Blanca has quite the history. The first official mention of “The White City” is attributed to Charles Lindbergh, who supposedly reported seeing “an amazing ancient metropolis”  while flying over Honduras in 1927. This  appears to be a misinterpretation of history as Lindbergh and his fellow pilots called many of the ruins they saw “white” because they were made of limestone and reflected light quite well (Colavito 2013). They were describing their explorations and the term “Ciudad Blanca” became a descriptor of the area, even having a biological preserve named after it (Colavito 2013).

Academically in the same year, “Ciudad Blanca” was used to describe some “important ruins” that had been written about by Eduard Conzemius in his report on the Paya Indians of Honduras. He mentions that the city had been calls thus because the walls of the ruins had been built out of a white stone (Conzemius 1927). Neither Lindbergh nor Conzemius were talking about a mythical city however, they were simply describing what they saw.

In 1933, Honduran president Tiburcio Carías hired George Gustav Heye to perform a study on the native people “before their way of life was disturbed” (Raphael 1934). Captain R. Stuart Murray was hired to lead the expedition and he brought back a few artifacts, and a lot of stories. Including:

 “There’s supposedly a lost city… which the Indians call the City of the Monkey God. They are afraid to go near it for they believe that any one who approaches it will, within the month, be killed by the bite of a poisonous snake.”(Raphael 1934).

A second expedition was made to look for this lost city, but it wan’t found.  It’s around this time that the “White City” and the “City of the Monkey God” apper to have been blended together. Other than both being ‘lost’ cities, there don’t apper to be a good reason for this, but this blending became permanent fairly quickly.

In 1940, Heye hired another adventurer, Theodore Morde to go on a third expedition, specifically looking for the lost city. Morde took with him Laurence C. Brown, and after about 4 months in the jungles, the two returned with artifacts, and the claim that they had found the Lost City of the Monkey King (Reading 1940). The men also claimed that they had found evidence of gold, silver, and platinum and oil (Reading 1940), but it’s not clear if they were saying that the resources were found associated with the lost city, or were just spotted as the men explored.

Morde wrote vividly of the lost city he had found:

Morde later described travelling for miles up rivers, through swamps and jungle, and over mountains before reaching the ruins. “The City of the Monkey God was walled,” Morde wrote. “We found some of those walls upon which the green magic of the jungle had worked small damages and which had resisted the flood of vegetation. We traced one wall until it vanished under mounds that have all the evidence of once being great buildings.” The jungle was too thick to see much else, but his Indian guides told him that, according to legend, it hid a great temple with a vast staircase leading to “a high stone dais on which was the statue of the Monkey God himself. Before it was the place of sacrifice.” He wrote, “Towering mountains formed the backdrop of the scene. Nearby, a rushing cataract, beautiful as a robe of shimmering jewels, cascaded into the green valley of the ruins.” (Preston 2013).

Artist Virgil Finlay’s conceptional drawing of Theodore Moore’s “Lost City of the Monkey God” – The American Weekly, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26317427

At the time, the two men refused to give the location of the lost city since they were planning on returning to do a more thorough excavation (Reading 1940). Sadly this would never happen as Morde committed suicide in 1954 (Preston 2013).

Thus we jump forward to 2013 and bring Chris Begley into the story.  Begley is a veteran of archaeology in Honduras. He’s spent years exploring and documenting ruins in the area. In 2013 he took novelist Christopher Stewart into the Honduran jungle to retrace Morde’s steps and relocate the fabled City of the Monkey King. We interview Begley about this on the podcast. Predictably, they didn’t find the lost city, but really, how would they know if they did?

Jump forward again to 2015, when an archaeological team lead by Christopher Fisher went into the Honduran jungle to record extensive plazas, earthworks, mounds, and an earthen pyramid found by a LiDAR survey done in 2012 (Preston 2015). The LiDAR survey was funded by two documentary film makers,  Steve Elkins and Bill Benenson (Preston 2015). Fisher’s team found 52 artifacts, including large stone statues, stone seats, and other ceremonial objects, apparently buried at the foot of the earthen pyramid (Preston 2015). The media surrounding both the LiDAR survey and the archaeological survey constantly threw round the names of White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God, but other than getting eyes on their articles, there’s nothing to support that either place was found.

This is the critical flaw in the story of  Ciudad Blanca, there is no way to know if it is ever found.  By definition a Lost City is lost. So if someone really did know where it was, and then shared that, then it’s not really lost. Then there is the lack of information about said city. There’s no descriptors of the city other than ‘white walls’, so if a location is suspected of being Ciudad Blanca, there would be no way of telling.

Preston leaves us with a quote from Begley that sums up the search of all such ‘lost cities’:

after a brutal, weeks-long trek, they arrive at a large ruin, which may or may not be Morde’s City of the Monkey God. Begley announces dryly that, by definition, the ruin cannot be the White City, “because the White City must always be lost.”  (Preston 2013).

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Comment below or send an email to ArchyFantasies@gmail.com


Conzemius, Eduard
1927     “Los Indios Payas de Honduras, Estudio geografico, historico, etnografico y linguistico” in Journal de la Societé des Americanistes. Tome 19,p. 302. Retrieved 8/1/2016.

Colavito, Jason
2013    On the Development of the Ciudad Blanca Myth. http://www.jasoncolavito.com/blog/on-the-development-of-the-ciudad-blanca-myth. Retrieved 8/1/2016.

Raphael, Leona
1934     “Explorer Seeks Fabled Lost City; Spurns Weaker Sex Companionship”. Calgary Daily Herald. p. 34. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=JxpkAAAAIBAJ&sjid=G3sNAAAAIBAJ&pg=1617,5791667 Retrieved 8/1/2016.

Preston, Douglas
2013    “The El Dorado Machine”. The New Yorker: 34–40. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/05/06/130506fa_fact_preston  Retrieved 8/1/2016.

2015    Exclusive: Lost City Discovered in the Honduran Rain Forest. National Geographic http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/150302-honduras-lost-city-monkey-god-maya-ancient-archaeology/ Retrieved 8/1/2016.

United Press

1940    “Seek Long Lost City of Monkey God”. The Sunday Morning Star. United Press. April 7, 1940. p. 7. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=I9FeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=AQMGAAAAIBAJ&pg=3549,6520116&hl=en Retrieved 8/1/2016..

Reading Eagle
1940    “Razor Blades Used by Natives In Latin Areas 1,500 Years Ago”. Reading Eagle (New York). August 2, 1940. p. 11. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1955&dat=19400802&id=k3AhAAAAIBAJ&sjid=G4gFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6153,6150529&hl=en. Retrieved 8/1/2016.

Chris Begley:

Transylvania University Bio

>National Geographic Bio


Kentucky professor a real-life Indiana Jones

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Irish Freemason Ritual Bath-houses in Pennsylvania. America Unearthed S1E8.

AU s1e8 entrance

So after I had my rant about this episode, I decided rage quitting the episode was a bad idea. That said, I really am going to try and keep this brief, (for me).

I wanna jump into this episode and skip my usual critique of the art-film at the beginning. I want the readers to be aware of the BS that Wolter pulls in this episode.

In the beginning of the show, after we establish that Wolter is investigating a stone chamber that he thinks is made by the Masons, due to his ‘feels’, Wolter finds out that he specifically has been denied access to the property this site is on. That means that Wolter, his crew, and anyone associated with him isn’t allowed access to the property that the mysterious site is on. To get around this, Wolter convinces one of the men he’s supposedly helping to trespass for him, pretending to be hunting, while obtaining more pictures, film, and questionable measurements. This is unethical at best, and probably illegal. Wolter knowingly sent an individual, who himself was knowingly perpetrating fraud, into an area he knew he was restricted from. Then they filmed the whole thing.

My biggest problem, beyond the probable illegality of the whole incident, is the audacity Wolter shows here. After raging on about being denied access, he then displays his apparent belief that his personal desires and endeavors trump the rights and expected privacy of the lawful landowner. He blatantly goes against the wishes of the landowner and coerces others to perpetuate fraud with him, all in the name of getting useless ‘data’ to reinforce his own biased, preconceived notions.

Now, that all said, If you would like to skip the rest of this review and go straight to the In Summary section feel free, but if you ask me question that I covered in the post, I will refer you to read the whole post before answering you.

During the art-film intro we’re told that:

“There are more than 800 mysterious stone sites in the Northeast corner of the US. Their origin and purpose are unknown, Many are not open to the public, in 2012 a new site was added to the list. Experts believe that one ritualistic element sets it apart.”

The ‘experts’ he’s talking about can only be himself, as no actual archaeologist or historian believes these are anything other than root-cellars and spring-houses, and the ritualistic element he’s talking about is the water basin inside this particular spring-house.

The show stages him receiving an email from two gentlemen talking about a stone chamber they found in Western Pennsylvanian. The two men are puzzled as to what they found, and why they didn’t just go to the State Arch or Historical Society I have no clue, but they ask Wolter to tell them what it is. They send along pictures and Wolter is, of course, immediately excited and he rushes to call them back.

Next we see Wolter talking to the two men, who I’m not going to name here because I don’t feel it’s fair. These two really appear to be duped by the show and Wolter, and are used to do things that are probably not entirely-legal, at least that’s how it seemed to me. Anyway, Wolter immediately starts telling the two men that this is probably a religious site, most likely built by Masons, and there’s no possible way it could be built by Native Americans or by farmers looking to get water and store veggies. Keep in mind he’s never seen the site, and as we find out, he never will.

AU s1e8 mad

Apparently, the owner of the land in question, who is not one of the two guys, knows about Wolter, and refuses to let the man on their land. This of course sends Wolter into a furry and we get to listen to his usual rant about The Man keeping him away from solving mysteries and how this can only mean that the landowner is hiding something and is afraid of THE TRUTH!

Well, the real truth is that the landowner could be denying him access for any number of reasons including a desire for privacy, or to control the use of their own land. Either way, Wolter now cannot legally enter the property, and instead of going to the landowner and trying to talk with them about it, he hatches his basically illegal plan. He’s going to send one of the men onto the property, in bad faith, posing as a hunter. Then that guy will take all the measurements and pictures that Wolter thinks he needs to prove himself right.

This action does two things that pretty much ends the show here. 1) any information Wotler receives from this can’t be taken seriously. Despite the five second crash course Wolter gives the chosen man, there is no way these can be accurate measurements. 2) Wolter will never see this site beyond pictures and film. So unless he plans to do some fancy forensic photography with that (which he doesn’t apper to), he’s got nothing to work with here. Oh yah and 3) This is basically, if not actually, illegal.

So while one man is off ‘hunting’ in the woods, Wolter and the other man stay behind, and Wolter tells the woeful tail of how he’s had this happen before. He’s talking about the time he wasn’t kicked out of the Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest, but this guy doesn’t know that so he listens dutifully. Wolter also goes on about Freemasons and how this was a secret bathing chamber due to the spring, as it’s true because it’s the only thing that comes to his mind.

Now as I said above, this is clearly a spring-house, and this basin Wolter is all hot about is clearly the receptacle for the water, so you know, water can be drawn from it. Spring-houses were also know for being cool places, which made them ideal for storing food stuffs that you didn’t want to spoil. The reason there are so many of them all over the country is because they worked, and farmers liked to drink clean water and not eat spoiled food. However, it seems to Wolter, the average farmer is a myth, much like Native Americans in any aspect. Let alone the aspect of building stone structures. Which, contrary to Wolter’s blanket statement, Native Americans are actually known for. Maybe not this structure however, it is clearly modern. So Wolter gets some points for this one, kinda.

So anyway, the man who was off hunting returns with measurements and more footage. Wolter tells us that with this minimal data he’s going to tell us who built it, when and why. The measurements are exactly what Wolter wanted them to be, how convenient for him, and Wolter immediately launches into archaeoastronomy. I’m not even going to go into that here, just follow the link.

So now Wolter wants to build a model chamber just like this one so he can prove that the light of the summer solstice will illuminate the chamber. Then he gloats like he got away with something, and he takes his measurements and peels off. He calls Cari Merryman, a designer, while he’s driving (tisk tisk, Wolter). He wants her to build a model of the chamber from the measurements he just got.

AU s1e8 chamber

While we wait for that to happen, we head out to Groton, CT at the Gungywamp Archaeological Site. We meet Steve Sora, who the show tells us is a Gungywamp Researcher who retells the 800 stone sites thing.  Sora is a Knights Templar theorist and he takes us back to see a particular stone site. Sora claims that there are 27 stone structures that date back to 2000 BCE, long before the first colonist. He says no one knows who built them, and so it must be the Irish or Vikings. Native Americans need not apply.

The reality of Gungywamp is that Native American artifacts have been located all over the site, and there are known Colonist settlements there as well. Archaeology points to these stone structures either being Native American in origin or used as root cellars, or both. There’s no evidence to suggest that anything other than the obvious happened here.

Sora and Wolter get fascinated with one particular structure, claiming that it’s a Calendar Chamber and aligns with the twice yearly equinoxes. Wolter fails to mention that any given point on the ground can be made to align with the sunrise at any point in the year. He also fails to recognize that ancient Native peoples were more than capable of creating solar calendars, and did so frequently, such as  Woodhenge at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Wolter does some stuff with his expensive compass and then declares the site evidence of the Irish, and to prove his point we fly off to Ireland.

AU s1e8 ship

We go to Craggaunowen Museum in County Clare, Ireland and we meet Tim Severin, who the show tells us is an adventurer. Severin is best known for his recreations of ancient maritime sailing feats. Don’t get me wrong, that’s cool! What it doesn’t do though is prove anything actually happened. But honestly, it doesn’t sound like Severin is trying to say it did, only that it could have. Which is acceptable.

But we’re here to talk to him about St. Brendan the Navigator, a 6th century Irish Monk who is said to have sailed to America. Now there is no evidence that St. Brendan was a real person, let alone that he sailed around the world in a skin boat. But in order for Wolter’s story to work, we have to assume this. Wolter thinks that because Severin recreated the famous voyage, it must have been possible. Severin did make it to Newfoundland, but none of that proves a) that Brendan was a real person or that b) he sailed from Ireland to America.

So next we go to Newgrange, County Meath, Ireland to talk with Alan Butler again, who this time the show tells us is a Megalithic Era Historian. Last time we talked with him in Episode 2, Butler was presented to us as a historical genealogist who helped us track down the non-existent Rough Hurech.  Now he’s trying to help Wolter make a connection between Newgrange and the stone chamber in Pennsylvania. There isn’t one of course, the two structures look nothing alike and moreover, there is a huge difference in the time scale that Wolter wants us to swallow. Again, foiled by maths! It doesn’t stop Wolter from getting all excited about the spirals carved on Newgrange, because in Wotler’s mind apparently, no one else ever could have come up with the spiral design.

All this globe trotting is done now though, as the model (remember that?) is now finished and Wolter takes us home to look at it. And I will say, it is a very nice model. I have thing for miniatures and this tiny spring-house is no exception. She even makes the spring water run, how cool is that? Wolter is likewise impressed, as he should be, and now he’s decided that this model made by ill-gotten means, definitely proves that Freemasons built it. Why you ask? Who knows. What did all that time spent in Ireland mean to all this here? Again, Who knows. Maybe Wolter just needed a vay-kay on History Channel’s dime?

AU s1e8 model 3

One last thing Wolter needs to do before he ends the show, and that’s to shine s flashlight down the entrance to see if it reaches the back of the chamber. He decides that since this does work, which should surprise no one, as there is no control here or anything to make this an actual experiment, this is evidence of Dualism. Why? Because the sunbeam is the representation of the fertilization of the male and it pierces mother earth where the spring come from. So the sun is like cosmic sperm, warm and spread over everything, and the water is like a woman, cold and wet? And somehow the sun is, um…doing…the earth to fertilize the water? Cause I’m most concerned when my water isn’t fertile….ok anyway.

Aside from my disturbing mental images, there is a lot wrong with Wolter’s recreation and interpretation. I honestly don’t have the space to get into it, but it revolves around using unreliable data to build an unreliable model to then shine a flashlight down at a random angle to ‘prove’ that it lines up with the sun. Then using all that error ridden not-evidence to say that this proves Freemasons built the chamber.

Wolter closes the episode by saying “Archaeoastronomy ties many cultures together throughout history.” To which I say, no it doesn’t. It doesn’t even mean what you’re trying to make it mean.

In Summary:

There’s not a lot to put here.

Really there are only two major points:

1) Wotler blatantly went against the expressed wishes of a Landowner and probably broke the law for no good reason.

2) This is a stream-house built by farmers to keep dirt and whatnot out of their drinking water and to create a cold storage location to keep food fresh longer.

That’s really it. All that was pretty much covered in the first 20 minutes of the show. Except for the kick-ass model reveal at the end, this was pretty much a waste of time.


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Want more on this topic? Go to Reviews: America Unearthed.
Comment below or send an email to ArchyFantasies@gmail.com

*All picture are from America Unearthed S1E8 and are used under the fair use act.

For more on the topic see:

Colavito, Jason
2012    Review of America Unearthed S01E08: “Chamber Hunting”.  http://www.jasoncolavito.com/blog/review-of-america-unearthed-s01e08-chamber-hunting

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Missing Colonists and Secret Colonies in North Carolina: America Unearthed S1E7

As always, feel free to skip to the In Summary section at the bottom, but as always, if you have a comment or question, which I do welcome, don’t be surprised if I tell you to read the whole post first.

We open to creepy horror music and someone stringing red strings between Polaroids pictures and pins on a map. We soon see it’s Wolter and he’s writing things on the Polaroids like “Revenge”, “Have Mercy”, and “Murder”.  He steps back and looks satisfied with his work for a moment. We then get the standard intro where Wolter tells us history is wrong, and he’s going to get it all figured out for us.

AU s1e7 scott w map

We soon find out that today’s topic is the Lost Colony of Roanoke. The story is that in the late 1500’s, the 119 English colonists that had settle there vanish without a trace. Wolter tells us that there are 48 clues left behind that have been sitting ignored for a century. He calls them the ‘Dare Stones’

The name refers to one particular colonists, Eleanor White Dare, the daughter of John White, the colony’s governor. Supposedly, Eleanor Dare wrote 48 or so stone tables and left them like a bread crumb trail as a way of indicating where the Roanoke colony went when they left their original location. Why she chose to chiseled these messages in literal stone and then left them scattered about is never really addressed.

According to Wolter these stones began popping up during the Great Depression and were found over a period of four years. Wolter tells us that these stones are considered fakes by academics, but “academics have been wrong before so I’m going to study them myself.” Good thing we have his infallible research methods to save us all from the hap-hearted methods of ignorant, trained, professional academics.

First we go to Brenau University in Georgia to see the Dare Stone Collection. Here we meet Dr. Jim Southerland who was a professor of history (he’s retired now). As Dr. Southerland tells us about the story behind the Dare Stones, we’re shown images of sacred white people in pilgrim costumes being hunted by half-dressed, savage, Indian looking individuals. A favorite motif of this show. I guess at least in this episode we’re going to acknowledge the existence of Native Americans?

Wolter asks Dr. Southerland if the stones are real and Dr. Southerland shuts him down with a simple no. Dr. Southerland then says, in a perfect set up for Wolter, that if the stones were real, they would be in the history books, to which Wolter replies, well maybe they should be. Wolter never asks why the stones are not considered real, he also never tells us why he thinks they are real. We’re just observers on this journey and it doesn’t have to make sense to us.

au s1e7 orignial dare stone

So while epic music plays we watch Wolter examine a stone under the microscope and we’re given a weak definition of weathering. Wolter then tells us that “if Forensic Geology shows significant weathering, then the stone is authentic.” This is next to nonsensical as a statement. If Forensic Geology, or just Geology as the kids call it these days, find evidence of weathering, that really only tells us that the stone has been exposed to…weather. It doesn’t tell us who carved the stones, doesn’t tell us who the stone was carved by, doesn’t tell us where the stones  were carved, or anything really all that important about the stones. It most certainly doesn’t prove the stone is authentic.

After a bit of song and dance, Wolter produces a fun 3d image with colors showing the grooves and valleys of the surface of the stone. Again, other than looking cool, this tells us nothing of value, and Wolter says as much. He admits that the stone is not one that will give a nice linear age. Not that knowing the overall age of the stone will tell us anything. Wolter makes a weak argument for secondary deposits, which he claims formed as a result of weathering and are useful in creating a timeline for an artifact. Witch as usual is almost true, but fails to connect it to this situation.

Still, Wolter declares the stones real, despite being told they were in-fact, not. He wants to see the other stones, claiming that if he sees as much weathering on the other stones as he did on the first, they might be legitimate clues to the lost colony. He doesn’t explain how this is, it just is. He also likes the fact that the stones don’t match, it makes him feel they are more authentic because they were carved where they were found. Sure, we’ve got nothing to support this idea, but let’s run with it anyway.

AU s1e7 dare stones loc

While Wolter touches the stones with his bare hands, we’re shown a map showing the locations the stones were supposedly found in. The first stone being discovered some 60-80 miles from the Roanoke Colony. Also the stones were found scattered between the colony and Atlanta, Georgia. There doesn’t seem to be a real trail to them, just clusters that don’t even pop up until 60 miles inland. Why would the colonists even come inland?

AU s1e7 fort raleigh

Without answers and convinced that the stones are real, we’re off to Fort Raleigh, NC National Historic Site. We meet Rob Bolling, a National Park Service Ranger at the site.  Who gives us a run down of the history of the site, and tells us that the colonists from the Roanoke Colony probably assimilated in the local native tribes. We get to see the remains of the colony and we see the earth fortifications. Wolter gets all worked up over the shape of the fortification. I’m mildly supersized he doesn’t try to connect that to archeoastronomy.

AU s1e7 map to Croatan

After Wolter tries and sells his story to Ranger Bolling, we’re off to modern-day Cape Hatteras, NC. which was historically called Croatoan. We meet Scott Dawson the owner of the Hatteras Histories and Mysteries Museum. He tells us about the 2010 archaeology dig on the island and how he is convinced beyond a doubt that the missing Colonists came back to Croatoan when they left Roanoke.

While we’re being told all this, the show is rolling footage of Eleanor Dare being forced to leave by spear-point by dark-skinned savages. Nothing like a bit of racism to help a story along.

Wolter doesn’t like Dawson’s idea that the settlers came back. I guess he’s invested in the idea of native sages capturing and murdering innocent white settlers. Wolter begins to attempt to tear Dawson’s theory apart. Wolter says, “You’ve got a compelling story, you have documents and artifacts, but the Dare Stones stand in contrast to that.” I’m thinking Dawson needn’t be worried since Wolter is trying to trump Dawson with artifacts that accepted frauds by everyone but Wolter. Which Dawson quickly points out to Wolter. He calls out Wolter’s story as speculation and points out that no one agrees with him.

Wolter doesn’t handle people pointing out he’s wrong well, and this is no exception. He tries to bully his point to Dawson, who has none of it. Then he tries to change tactic and suggest a new theory that he’s been told is equally unlikely, and when that fails he claims to have factual evidence (which he doesn’t) and that all he can do is testify to it. Dawson is done at this point and the show sifts to images of calming waves and more footage of Wolter driving.

AU s1e7 dissapointed face 6

We end up in an airport terminal where we just happen get to overhear Wolter having a conversation with his wife complaining about how Dawson was mean to him, and how the man is keeping him down, and something about the establishment. He closes by telling us he’s not mad at Dawson, he’s just disappointed.

AU s1e7 Wolter ass faces 3

In order to cheer him up, Wolter’s wife gives him a new clue about a map. We see him open up to an article in his email, and after reading it he announces that he’s going to England!

We go to  Salisbury, Wiltshire, England to talk with a Dr. Stephanie Pratt who the show tells us is an art historian. They have a very convenient conversation about fakes and how they are both good at spotting them. After a bit of tea, Pratt tells Wolter about the  La Virginia Pars map.

au s1e7 map patch

The map was drawn by John White and on it there are two spots that have been covered up (British Museum). One appears to be a repair, and the other covers up a diamond-shaped fort in the bay of a waterway (Ambers et al 2012). Both of these are considered corrections and were common techniques for doing so (Ambers et al 2012).


Image via the British Museum, 2016. Number – 1906,0509.1.3, Description – Front:Middle Transmitted. Light image of the northern patch in “La Virginea Pars”. Image has been enhanced by scaling the lightness of the transmitted visible light image.

Wolter gets excited that this drawing matches his sketch for the earth fort at Fort Raleigh. He asks if the fort could have been where the settlers meant to move to?  Dr. Pratt agrees. Wolter wants to know why this would have been covered-up, and Dr. Pratt tells him it was for protection against Spanish competition in the area. Wolter then declares, “Both the Dare Stones and this map show that the colonists must have gone inland.” But why? Wolter’s own map shows no reason to think that.

So now Wolter seems to think that Raleigh actually had the colony moved secretly and then had the symbol for the fort on the map covered up to keep the colony secret.

AU s1e7 fort locations

So we’re off to St. John’s College in Cambridge England to talk with  Dr. Mark Nicholls a British historian, about Sir Walter Raleigh who was John White’s boss for the Roanoke Colony expeditions. Dr. Nicholls tells us a lot about Sir Raleigh and about a contemporary of Raleigh’s named Dr. John Dee. Dr. Dee belived that the British had been to the Americas before anyone else, and therefore had a prior claim to the land, this historically made it easier for Britain to claim the land.

Dr. Nicholls mentions sassafras as a possible cash crop that Raleigh might have been looking for. Wolter latches onto this, as he’s seen Sassafras around the Roanoke area. Dr. Nicholls mentions that Sassafras was thought of as the only treatment for Syphilis, and so Wolter accuses the then Queen of having Syphilis. This doesn’t go over well with Dr. Nicholls.

After some clever editing, Wolter launches into one of his weird “who asked” round-ups where he starts telling the random person he’s with his next steps on his journey, and what evidence he think’s he needs to prove himself right. These segments are always awkward, but I guess they need them to help keep the story on track.

Finally we are going back to America, looking for a place where the secret fort on the map, the sassafras, and the Dare Stones all come together. Wolter has decided that spot must be Scotch Hall Preserves Golf Course because it corresponds with the symbol on the map. We meet Jim Hughes the Scotch Hall spokesman. Walter launched into his newly revised story about secret forts and, Eleanor Dare running for safety to a place where she thought her father might have built a fort, and deadly natives, and sassafras. Hughes just nods politely through the whole thing, and then, in a very Southern way tell Wolter, “That’s a hell of a story, Scott.” Let it not be said that Mr, Hughes is a gentleman.

Wolter decides that he’s right to think this golf course sits where the secret fort of Sir Walter Raleigh used to sit. All he needs now it to tie the Dare Stones into it, however weakly, and so he declares, if he finds quartzite in the area then that ties the area back to the Dare Stones.How you ask? I have no clue, and I wager Wolter doesn’t either.

Quartzite is pretty much found everywhere and trust me the South-Eastern coast is lousy with it. So basically Wolter doesn’t have to look long in landscaped flower beds to find what he wants, and bam! ‘Proof’!

Wolter always tries to go out on a great quote, and this episode doesn’t disappoint. He wraps us saying:

“History ignored them because they didn’t fit into the story we were told, but now MY science tells a new story.”

Yes Wolter, Your science is best science.

In Summary:

Points for reading all this!

So let’s look at the not-evidence and not-clues Wolter tries to provide us.

  1. The Dare Stones.
    1. So for starts, the first stone is found almost 80 miles North from the Roanoke colony site. Which overshoots the supposed secret fort by 10 miles or more. The next set of stones don’t pop-up till 300 or more miles South and West in South Carolina.
    2. Secondly, No one thinks these stones are real. Most of these popped up quickly from 1937-1940 and none were found before or after. Also the language on the stones don’t match up to historical standards.
    3. Lastly, as Wolter presents it, are we supposed to believe that while being forcibly and violently abducted and marched south, Eleanor Dare had time to chisel 47 stone tables chronicling her story?
  2. The Covered Up Fort.
    1. This covering technique is a well know way to correct a map. So to see something like this shouldn’t be immediately suspect. However, being able to see under it to see the mistake is a neat trick. That said, this proves nothing. No one knows why this was covered up, and Wolter certainly didn’t provide any evidence. Even his chosen location didn’t pan out, so.
  3. Croatoan, aka Cape Hatteras, NC.
    1. This is the most likely place that the missing settlers went to. For starts they lived here prior to their migration to Roanoke. While here, they fostered close relations with the Coratoan tribe. It was also around 60 miles at the long end away. It just makes sense that they returned to the place they knew where there were still settlers and friendly Natives to protect them, as opposed to wandering off 80+ miles out of their way, in a direction they hadn’t explored yet, and knew there were hostile Native Peoples. The other direction, West and South towards Atlanta, Ga. Makes no sense no matter how you try to spin it.
  4. Sassafras
    1. Ok, the main reason this still here is because Wolter got stuck on this being a cure for Syphilis and that Queen Elizabeth I has the disease. There is no evidence that the Queen had it, but Wolter pursues this idea through the last part of the show anyway.
  5. Quartzite
    1. This stuff is all over the place, especially in the Southeastern reigns. So it’s rather easy to find in North Carolina. Now, in the show, Wolter hows himself looking for Quartzite in flower beds and in people’s yards. Not the first place I would have looked, but to each their own I guess. This also proves nothing of value to his argument. As we’ve said in almost every other show where Wolter has tried to use rocks as evidence of things, finding a random rock in a random location doesn’t link the rock you’re looking at to the rock you found.
    2. Also, all the science-y crap that Wolter tries to bamboozle everyone with amounts to Jack-and-… There is nothing in the weathering pattern of these stones that can tell us anything about the creators or the time periods of the stones. So all that examination and jargon is just window dressing to make everyone think something deeper is going on, when in reality it’s a shell game.

A Few Last Things.

The original topic of this show lacked any actual substance. As a result, the show quickly shifted from the topic of the authenticity of the Dare Stones to a quest to find the lost colony of Roanoke. When this didn’t pan out as well as the show seemed to hope, the show tried to turn to a weird secret conspiracy to hide the colony from possible Spanish competition.

We never really examine the Dare Stones, never look over what they say, or how they say it. Never look at the actual discovery locations, or who discovered them. We just hear the words repeated a lot in the show and are expected to know what they are, for no reason. This isn’t uncommon for the show, but given that these Stones are Wolter’s big trump card till he gets fixated on Sassafras and Syphilis, I would have expected them to spend a lot more time trying to convince me that they are real.

All said and done, I feel like the show knew it had a dud on its hands and tried to cobble something together. Well, it didn’t work to well, in my opinion.

If you’d like to support this blog, consider donating on Patreon.
Want more on this topic? Go to Reviews: America Unearthed.
Comment below or send an email to ArchyFantasies@gmail.com


Ambers, Janet, Joanna Russell, David Saunders and Kim Sloan

2012    Hidden history?: examination of two patches on John White’s map of ‘Virginia.’  The British Museum Technical Research Bulletin.  Vol 6.  2012. http://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/BMTRB_6Ambers-et-al.pdf. Accessed 5/17/2016

The British Museum Collection Online.

Categories: America Unearthed | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Importance of Myth and Oral Traditions

Lady in the rain

Episode 30 has dropped ( a while ago now) and it’s chocked full of Ken and I ranting about how important Myth, Oral Traditions, and even local lore can be to archaeologists and archaeology as a field. 

I know that I harp a lot about the misunderstood and misused records of Native American mythology, but there’s a good reason for it. Too often the fringe likes to turn to the myths and oral traditions of a random tribe in order to try and support a story they are trying to sell. The problem they inadvertently run into is taking a myth or oral tradition out of context.

Context, as we know, is Queen, much like the GPS is God. When you chose to ignore context, you can make up anything you want and probably find something out there to support it. That doesn’t make it true or correct, and the refusal to see that is just insulting at best. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen or read some fringe theorists spouting off about how they know more about what a Native tradition “really meant” than the living decedents of that tradition. What’s more is by trying to force traditions that aren’t yours to fit your favorite story, you’re missing out on actual information that is being conveyed via these rich and varied traditions.

So give the episode a listen, or a second listen, and let us know what you think!

If you’d like to support this blog, consider donating on Patreon.
Want more on this topic? Go to: Concepts and Themes
Comment below or send an email to ArchyFantasies@gmail.com


The Importance of Myth and Oral Traditions
Categories: Concepts and Themes, Podcast | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Origins of the Oak Island Saga Pt2: Smith’s Cove and Boobie Traps.

Smith's Cove

Oak island showing Smith’s Cove via Google Earth 2016

Despite the lack of treasure found on Oak Island, there appears to be something strange about the whole thing, and that’s enough for some adventurers. The Money Pit is far from the most intriguing thing on, or around rather, the island. Many think this possibly man-made feature is the reason for flooding in the Money Pit. Since the discovery of the Money Pit, six more companies have tried, and failed, to recover treasure from the island and many blame this watery obstacle for it.

What is this most dastardly foil of an obstacle?

Smith’s Cove appears to have come into the Oak Island Saga some time in 1965. Robert Dunfield agreed that the Money Pit was flooding due to some kind of boobie trap, and he thought the source was probably the beach (Oak 2015). He drew several diagrams, outlining what he thought had occurred to create a funnel system, starting at Smith’s Cove and ending at the Money Pit (Oak 2015). This idea caught on quickly with other treasure hunters and became part of the cannon of the Oak Island Saga.

When the Triton Company took over excavations in 1971 they made note of what they thought were man made structures:

“Historians and archaeologists who have worked closely with Triton throughout the operations believe that this structure is probably the remains of the original builders’ coffer dam[sic] erected during excavation of the flood tunnel and its underwater collector drains. Other discoveries made by Triton at Smiths Cove include: matted organic material identified by the National Research Council as coconut fibre[sic] (which is consistent with 1850 reports of masses of coconut fiber underlying the beach where it seems to have been used as a filter to keep the collector drains from clogging); the remains of a ruler or framing square; an unusual antique wooden box; and a wrought iron caulking tool.” (Oak 2015)

Now, a cofferdam is often constructed as a way to enclose an area in order to pump it dry so that it can be used as a staging ground of other work or other land use. It’s also a practice that’s been around for along time. So it’s not unusual to see something like this in action dating back to the earlier centuries, especially on an island that has a historical connection to shipping and fishing.

Much has been made of the artifacts found around Smith’s Cove, but as these were discovered as part of a treasure hunt and not an actual archaeological dig, thereby implying the context of these artifacts is completely gone, the reliability of these artifacts is questionable. Take for example Triton Co.’s interpretation of the wooden box found being used for rock removal during tunnel digging (Oak 2015). There is absolutely no reason to assume this based on what has been presented to us. The only evidence offered up by the sympathetic website, Oak Island Treasure, is that the movie ‘The Great Escape’ used what they assume is a similar process in a digging scene (Oak 2015). Not exactly convincing.

There are other issues with the idea of a flood system boobie trap.

An independent study was done by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) for Triton Co. and their results were not exactly supportive of this idea. Despite being very limited in their ability to collect data, WHOI, was able to do some testing.

The major issue WHOI encountered was Triton’s control over what they were allow to even look at. The chief researcher involved in the investigation stated that the researchers were led to the spot and handed material supposedly retrieved from under the sand (Joltes 2002b). No archaeological excavation was conducted and the WHOI researchers were not allowed to collect their own samples for comparison (Joltes 2002b).

Despite this, WHOI did a variety tests and looked at a few key points of evidence offered by Triton Co. The first of which was getting a C14 date for the coconut husks allegedly found on the island and inside the Money Pit. The dates obtained by the C14 tests indeed show a date of 1130, +/-70 years. The major issue here is that these samples were handed to WHOI and they were not allowed to collect comparative samples to make sure that these samples were legitimate and from the area in question. As we know from historical documents, Oak Island was used for shipping and fishing (O’Connor 2004, Bartram 2005), and many guess that it was used for pirate smuggling (Nickell 2000, O’Connor 2004, Oak 2008). These coconut husks could easily have gotten there as part of packing marital used in cargo shipping (Joltes 2002b). Or the dates could be compromised by mishandling or other contaminates. As WHOI couldn’t collect comparison samples, there’s no way to know or trust this date.

WHOI also poured a sensitive dye into Borehole 10-X, who’s water levels vary at the same rate as the Money Pit, and then monitored the coastline around the island to check for evidence of the dye (Joltes 2002b). No dye was detected emerging anywhere around the island (Joltes 2002b). They also conducted side-scan sonar studies of the area looking for any kind of channels between the Money Pit and the shoreline, finding nothing (Joltes 2002b). Thus concluding that:

‘no direct connection to the surrounding ocean was found during the study (Gallo, 2002).’ (Joltes 2002b)

So where is the water coming from if not the sea?

Well for starts the water in the hole and the Money Pit is not actually seawater. It’s ‘brackish’ indicating  a freshwater lens on the island (Joltes 2002b, Bartram 2005 ). Geologically this is possible as Graham Harris explains:

Geologically the island is a drumlin. Composed almost entirely of dense glacial till, it is a remnant of the last Ice Age. This till overlies anhydrite bedrock, with which is associated some minor limestone. Anhydrite possesses the dubious property of being exceedingly soluble, more so in salt water than in fresh. Paradoxically Oak Island is the only island in the region to be underlain by anhydrite. On the adjacent mainland, and on other islands in the region, sounder limestones and slates can be found at shallow depth.

…digging the first shaft through dense till into the underlying anhydrite is a simple operation fraught with little peril. But once the excavation fills up with water, drawn into it through systemic seepage paths within the anhydrite, these seepage paths will enlarge progressively. The greater the pumping activity the greater the rate of solution of the anhydrite and, of course, the greater the rate of inflow. Once started it is a vicious circle, and one likely to prove catastrophic as the solution passages enlarge.

Treasure-seekers centuries later would repeatedly attempt to dewater the workings by pumping – an exercise as fruitless as trying to pump the Atlantic Ocean dry! In recent years, massive sinkholes have developed offshore showing that the seepage paths radiating outwards from the base of the Money Pit have grown great indeed.

– Recovering the Oak Island Treasure, Graham Harris, C&G Association Journal, Spring 2002. (Bartram 2005).

If Smith Cove isn’t connected to the Money Pit via a drainage system, why are there man made structures there?

Aside from possible shipping use, there is another interesting and plausible suggestion for man-made structures in Smith’s Cove. The production of salt from sea water.
Salt was important back before the invention of refrigerated shipping for preservation of perishable cargo, especially fish  (King 2010). The first recorded owners of Oak Island were Gifford and Smith, two New York fishing agents in 1753 (King 2010). As salt was both an expensive and important part of the fishing industry, its perfectly acceptable that Gifford and Smith were also manufacturing their own salt. More support of this is in the shape and location of the five finger troughs that are found in Smith Cove (King 2010). There is also evidence of boiling pits used in the manufacture of salt and this whole process easily explains the presence of the artificial beach created by the cofferdam (King 2010).
Last and probably least, when Triton Co. brought in WHOI to examine their evidence, they showed the WHOI researchers a video. This enhanced CBC video, taken from the bottom of Borhole 10-X, supposedly shows a wooden casket and an severed hand. WHOI researchers were unable to see anything in the film. The water was so murky and the video so badly lit, that it was impossible to distinguish objects clearly (Joltes 2002b).

There is one last factor to consider here, Oak Island is irrecoverable compromised as a site.

Since the late 1700’s Oak Island has been a treasure hunters’ paradise, peaking in the 1960’s with as many as 40 active treasure pits (Bartram 2005). As such there are more holes on that island than in Swiss cheese. What little archaeological evidence recovered shows this to true. Not to mention all the stories about Oak Island’s Treasure are just that, Stories.

There are no known hard records for the discovery of the Money Pit or excavations of the Onslow or Truro companies from the 1800’s (Bartram 2005). There is, however, a strong oral tradition passed from McInnis, Smith and Vaughan that spawned several newspaper articles during the time (Bartram 2005). From these, the folklore of the island was born properly and has since been handed down as fact and evidence even when devoid of both.

The truly sad part of all this is that any actual archaeology that may have been on that island is now probably distorted beyond recovery. All in the name of some rumored treasure that no one is really clear what it might be. It really give new meaning to the terms ‘Fool’s Gold’ and ‘Wild Goose Chase’.

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Want more on this topic? Go to: The Oak Island Saga.
Comment below or send an email to ArchyFantasies@gmail.com


Resources :

Bartram, John A.
2005     Appendix: On the claim for a flood tunnel. History, Hoax, and Hype: The Oak Island Legend.  CriticalEnquiry.org. Sun 19 of June. http://www.criticalenquiry.org/oakisland/floodtunnel.shtml  Retrieved 1/19/2016

Nd    Oak Island Mystery. Crystalinks.com. http://www.crystalinks.com/oakislandmystery.html Retrieved 1/19/2016.
McCully, J.B.
1862    Correspondence in the Liverpool Transcript. October 1862. Liverpool, Nova Scotia. https://web.archive.org/web/20080517112423/http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/content/view/74/97/ Retrieved 1/19/2016.

Forks, J.P.
1857    Correspondence in the Liverpool Transcript.  20 August 1857 Vol. 4 No. 32. S.J.M. Allen Editor. Liverpool, Nova Scotia.  http://web.archive.org/web/20150106084107/http://novascotia.ca/archives/virtual/newspapers/archives.asp?ID=2941 Retrieved 1/19/2016.

Joltes, Richard
2002a    Oak Island Research. CriticalEnquiry.org. p. 1. August 2002. >http://criticalenquiry.org/wp/oak-island-information/ Retrieved 1/19/2016

2002b    The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Report. History, Hoax, and Hype: The Oak Island Legend.  CriticalEnquiry.org.  http://www.criticalenquiry.org/oakisland/whoi.shtml.
Retrieved 1/19/2016.

King, Dennis
2010    A Solution To The Mystery Of The Oak Island Five Finger Drains. CriticalEnquiry.org. February 2010.http://www.criticalenquiry.org/oakisland/Dennis_King_Mar_2010.shtml. Retrieved 1/19/2016.

Nickell, Joe
2000    The Secrets of Oak Island. Skepitcal Inquirer. Vol 24.2, March/April 2000. http://www.csicop.org/si/show/secrets_of_oak_island Accessed 1/19/2016

Oak Island Treasure
2008    History. Oak Island Treasure.  https://web.archive.org/web/20080509165300/http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/content/section/5/35/ Retrieved 1/19/2016.

2015    Smith’s Cove – a closer look at Oak Island’s artificial beach. Oak Island Treasure.co.uk. October 15, 2015.  http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/smiths-cove-a-closer-look-at-oak-islands-artificial-beach/. Retrieved 1/19/2016.

O’Connor, D’Arcy
2004    The Secret Treasure of Oak Island: The Amazing True Story of a Centuries-Old Treasure Hunt. The Lyons Press. Guilford, CT. https://books.google.com/books?id=QLoZMFzjWtQC&pg=PA269&dq=O%27Connor,+D%27Arcy.+1988.+The+Big+Dig.+New+York:+Ballantine.&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwin2-WT877KAhWFpR4KHYyKCrwQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&q&f=false Retrieved 1/19/2016.

Woods Hole 10x dye test. Forum Discussion on the Oak Island Treasure forum. http://forum.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=3355&start=40 Retrieved 1/19/2016

Categories: Curse of Oak Island, Mystery Sties That Aren't, The Oak Island Saga | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

The American Stonehenge on Mystery Hill – America Unearthed S1, Ep 6.



Yay! We’re about half way through the first season! I grossly underestimated how long it would take to review this series. There is just so much that needs to be addressed in each episode, it’s daunting. I am learning to break-up the posts into smaller posts that I can then link you too for more information. It’s still a lot of research and reviewing though, but I think it’s worth it.

As usual if you don’t want to read through the whole break down, feel free to skip to the In Summary section at the bottom, but as always, if you have a comment or question, witch I do welcome, don’t be surprised if I tell you to read the whole post first.

AU s1e6 1

We open this episode with a sepia toned film of a man getting his hair cut while listing to the old-timmey radio. An announcer is telling us, H.G.Wells style, about a mysterious collection of stone structures that has been discovered. We then see haircut man walking though the woods and stopping, awestruck, when he finds several piles of stone.

Wolter does a voice over here talking about Stonehenge, calming that it’s origins and meaning are still shrouded in mystery. This is not true in the way Wolter means it, but hey, we have to set a tone right?

Wolter goes on:

“Some advanced civilization that knew enough about the sun moon and stars to align theses stones in a very specific way.”

Yah, it’s called every ancient civilization ever, Wolter, seriously.

He then goes on to make the extraordinary claim of the the show, that there is a Stonehenge in America and that this henge and actual Stonehenge were built by the same people.

We start in Salem, New Hampshire at a place now called American Stonehenge, but what was once called Mystery Hill.  We meet Kenlsey Stone, son of the owner, who meets us at what is the central observatory of area. It’s a large covered gazebo. (Your +25 sword of BS slaying has no effect on it, and it’s not on fire.) There are small ‘standing stones’ that are arranged around the central point. It’s apparent from a casual glance that these stones were placed in a deliberate pattern and probably line up with something, probably solstices, equinoxes, and cross quarter days.

AU s1e6 2

Wolter correctly points out here that many ancient cultures all over the world made note of these points of the year. He then ruins it by throwing up a simplistic definition of  archaeoastronomy. He tells us that he saw archaeoastronomy in Georgia and that somehow connected Native Americans to the Mayans. (spoiler: he didn’t and it doesn’t)

He then makes another claim that caught my attention:

“The ancient practice of archaeoastronomy seems to tie many advanced cultures together.”…”and it also seems to tie them to America”

Couple of things her.

  1. Archaeoastronomy is a very common practice in most, if not all, prehistoric, ancient, and some modern cultures. It’s not a definitive sign of advance vrs not-advanced cultures. It was a tool necessary for everyday life, especially among agricultural societies. It was practiced in large scale, as seen in Stonehenge and the like, as well as on a small scale. My point here is it’s not a mystical magical unifying secret that only elite cultures were capable of understanding. It was part of basic everyday life, and was common because anyone can keep an eye on the sky and see that things change up there according to the seasons. It’s pretty much common sense.
  2. I think Wolter just made the claim that the  diffusionism of archaeoastronomy came out of America. I may just be confused here, but if that is true, this is a major deviation from his normal claims that everything was brought to America by white people.

Now we’re focusing on one stone in particular, and we get to watch Wolter rubbing it as epic music swells in the background. Wolter asks Stone what happens in the circle and Stone tells us that the sun rises in the middle of the stone, but that they think it might have risen at the top point of the stone at some point in the past. Wolter agrees and there is a fancy computer generated model to show us where the sun might have been in 1800BC. We’re not immediately told why this date is important, but hey, we’re building anticipation here!

AU s1e6 4

Wolter tells us that things can move the axis of the earth, like earthquakes, (or just the natural wobble of the planet), and we can use that for dating purposes. He then makes the claim that archaeoastronomy is more accurate for dating than C14 dating. This argument is, weird, and important for the story Wolter is trying to tell here and I’ll get to that in a minute.

Wolter tells us that the stones in the circle look weathered, which really means nothing. Any stone exposed to the elements will be weathered and Wotler has admitted as much in previous episodes of the show. I’m guessing he’s just talking out loud here.

Before we move on to how this henge is connected to Stonehenge, let’s recap a little here.

  • We are being grossly misled here by not being given the full story of Mystery Hill and Americans Stonehenge. I cover it detail in my blog post here, but to briefly recap:
    • The area known as Mystery Hill was once owned by Jonathan Pattee in 1837 (Gilbert 1907) and always had a bunch of natural caves and rock outcroppings. Pattee also built tons of structures on the land himself and these were commented on historically (Gilbert 1907, Starbuck 2006).
    • The land passed into the hands of William Goodwin in 1937 who dubbed the area Mystery Hill (Wright 1998, Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d.). He then began to move and quarry the rocks and structures already on the land in order to “restore” what he thought was Irish monastery (Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d.) completely destroying the context of the area.
    • Robert Stone bought the land in 1967 and the Stones have made a few improvements of their own (Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d.). Adding a museum and changing the name to “America’s Stonehenge” trying to link the area to Stonehenge in England (Starbuck 2006).
    • Several archaeological digs have been done in the area. Of them, the one led by Gary Vescelius in 1955 recovered over 7000 artifacts, all of which were Native American or 18th and 19th century in origin (Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d.).
    • What all this means is that American Stonehenge is completely out of context and even if it had been an actual ancient site, there is no way to ever know this due to the activities of Goodwin et al. Also, nothing has ever been found to suggest the area was ever settled by Ancient -Europeans.
  • Wolter makes a claim that archaeoastronomy is a more accurate way to date a site than C14 dating. He’s not entirely wrong, in some situations this can be correct. However, the reasons he’s making this claim isn’t because of these unique situations.
    • Mystery Hill has been excavated several times in the past, and one of the most recent excavations sent off charcoal samples to an actual lab to be c14 dated. The dates that came back do not support Wolter’s claims that the site dates back to  3800 ya. or 1800 BC.
    • Wolter is also neglecting to mention that you can make the sun line up with pretty much any single object if you just move around it till the sun lines up. You can probably witness something in your back yard (if you have one) lining up with the sun rise/set by chance. Or you can do what was probably done here, and deliberately put something there (see my note above about Goodwin et al).
    • Wolter’s computer generated model, though cool to look at, would only be valid if there wasn’t evidence that the stone he was using was probably moved and set up there intentionally by Goodwin et al.
    • Wolter appears to be trying to obfuscate the actual facts here in order to manufacture a mystery where there is none. Which is the show’s M.O., it’s just way more pronounced here this time.

But, we’re not done here yet.

After Wolter get’s done rubbing all the stones and making weird claims about archaeoastronomy, Stone tells us that he’s got more to show us. Stone claims that this evidence will tie America’s Stonehenge to the actual Stonehenge. Of course Wotler wants to see it!

What is this amazing evidence you ask?

Lines on a map.

Stone takes us to his computer and pulls up Google Earth, and then proceeds to draw a line between to points. What two points? Why, Americas Stonehenge and actual Stonehenge! Amazing!

Unless you remember your basic math and graphing skills here and remember that you can draw a straight line between any two arbitrary points.

To add to the drama of this magical line, Stone proceeds to show us that the line continues (as all lines do) and then “ends” in Beirut. Why does it end here? Because why not? There is no explanation as to why our arbitrary line between two arbitrary points must end in Beirut, it just does. That’s good enough for Wolter who immediately begins making up a connection for it. It has something to do with Phoenicians around 1200 bc, and the math is all bad, but whatever! We have our connection!

At this point we get to meet Dennis Stone, father of Kenlsey Stone, and we get a very brief and sterilized history of Mystery Hill. We’re told about Johnathan Pattee and how the area used to be called  Pattee’s Caves back in 1907. We’re even taken to what is possibly Pattee’s old house and Wolter makes his proclamation that Pattee couldn’t have made any of the structures on the site because:

“There’s no way Pattee could have built this, it just wreaks of being really old”

Very scientific of you Wolter.

Wolter tells us that if it’s old, it’s important. Not important enough to actually research, but hey, we’re busy building a mystery here. Wolter also dismisses Pettee’s ability to have built structures on his own land despite evidence that he in-fact did:

“He built massive stones walls when he had all these trees and he could have used wood? I don’t buy that”

Yes, it’s much more believable that Ancient Phoenician-European-Irish Monks came to New Hampshire in 1800 BC to build a monastery in the middle of nowhere so they could recreate Stonehenge and worship Baal. Oh wait, we haven’t gotten there yet.

So now Wotler is telling us that large flat rocks are like clocks and indicate the age of a structure. He doesn’t tell us how this works, but it apparently confirms something of his story. Stone tells us that there’s more on site to connect it to the Phoenicians and we’re introduced to the Baal Stone.

AU s1e6 baal stone


The stone, with it’s random scratching, was supposedly translated by Barry Fell back in the 1970’s and apparently is a dedication to the god Baal. Wolter makes a big production out of examining the stone, and eventually decides that the stone is old.

Personally, anything translated by Barry Fell is immediately invalid. Also the writing doesn’t look anything like the Phoenician alphabet. So I’m not going to beat this dead horse.

phonician alphabet

Phoenician alphabet. By Luca – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2311779

The Stones inform us that they have one more mega piece of evidence that connects the site to the Phoenicians, a giant sacrificial table.


Image from Ken Feder during his visit to Americas Stonehenge in the 1990’s

The table is an impressive structure. It’s roughly 9′ by 6′ and has an inner groove running the perimeter of it. It appears to be set up on stone supports and the drainage groove feeds directly into what appears to be a chamber of some sort.

Wolter is suitably impressed and begins talking about Exfoliation Weathering, defining it as loss of stone surface due to changes in moisture and temperature. Basically the stone was exposed to the elements, as is clearly the case. He tells us again that such weathering can be used like a clock, but never really gets beyond the whole “looks old to me” thing.

What the table is supposedly set up over is what the Stones are calling the Oracle Chamber. It looks to  me like a natural chamber that was used as a cold cellar, probably by Pattee. The Stones explain that the table was purposefully set up over the chamber so that when a sacrifice was done someone else, a priest possibly, would stand below and speak. The voice that would come from under the table would have been a “god” voice.

Wolter makes a reference to his idea that ancient Celtic Egyptian Mithra Cults existed in Oklahoma, and then throws out a new buzzword; Archaeoacoustics which he says is the ancient architectural sound design that played a part in rituals. Which, as usual, is simplistic enough as to be misleading.

Well, needless to say, Wolter has decided that this site is now actually the handy-work of  Phoenicians, based on nothing, and we’re off to find more not-evidence to support this already decided conclusion.

Before we go though, I want to spend a moment with this new dump of information.

  • Things to remember about the Mystery Hill/American Stonehenge site.
    1. Goodwin et al moved things around. There’s actually pretty well documented evidence of this via pictures throughout the years. The website Mystery Hill NH, Americas Stonehenge provides a lot of this themselves. Whether they knowingly throw doubt onto the site or not, they have historical pictures that clearly show the progress of the changes at the site.
      1. Jason Colavito, also has an excellent show and tell of the changes started by Goodwin and continued into at least the 1990’s. His photos cover not only the movement of the the “sacrificial table” but also the renovation of several of the stone structures on the site.
      2. The pictorial sequence of the “sacrificial table” is of most interest here because you can see where it was originally located. It’s clearly set close to the ground, with perhaps enough space for a small jug or large bowl. Which is exactly what one would expect to see of a Lye Stone or Cider Press (more on that in a moment). In subsequent images you can tell that the stone has been moved and set up on legs, presumably over the so called “Oracle Chamber”, and that other stones have been added and subtracted over the years.
    2. It is well documented that when Johnathan Pattee bought the land there were numerous natural caves and rock outcroppings that he was known for using for storage and quarrying purposes.
    3. Of all the archaeological excavations that have been done on the site, none have ever found anything that was unexpected or out of place. All artifacts have been Native American or 18th-19th Century in origin.
  • Let’s talk about the Cider Press, aka the sacrificial table.
    • As stated above, the stone was obviously moved after Goodwin purchased the land and has been updated ever since.
    • Before it was moved, it was in the appropriate configuration to be what it actually is, a cider press or lye stone. It’s large size and square shape make me more comfortable saying it’s a cider press over a lye stone, but honestly the construction for both is similar and if you google cider press stones, you will see identical stones found all over the country.
    • Both cider presses and lye stones were a common household item in the 18th and 19th centuries. One was necessary for making soap, the other necessary for making hard cider, which is as American as apple pie.

But we’re off to Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA. to talk with Professor Mark McMenamin who is presented to us as a Phoenician Researcher. Dr. McMenamin is a professor at Mt. Holyoke College, but his field is geology and paleontology. Dr. McManamin dose however have an interesting hobby, and that’s proving Phoenicians made it to America before anyone else. His evidence? Seven unprovenanced coins found across the US. He’s published several books and articles touting support for his theory, but in the end, it falls short in the evidence category.

With this in mind though, it’s no wonder Wotler wants to talk to him. As we watch Wolter drive (he drives a lot) while epic music plays, trying desperately to convince us we’re not just filling time, Wolter provides a voice over. He’s still trying to tell us that the arbitrary line drawn through the two Stonehenges is legitimate and that the Phoenicians did it deliberately because they knew about the sky.

“If the Phoenicians knew about the Polaris star, chances are they knew about the rest of the sky too.”

Apparently, it was easy to not notice the sky back in ancient times. I mean, looking up was hard and all, so ancient man didn’t bother with it much. Unless they knew about one star in particular, then they might have noticed the rest of the sky was up there too, maybe.

Once we get to Dr. McMeanamin, he tells us about his idea that there is a map on the back of Carthaginian coins. He says the strange shapes found at the bottom of some coins are actually maps of the world.

AU s1e6 9

To make this true, you have to add squiggles where there aren’t any (Africa in the picture) and ignore bumps that are clearly there (between Sardinia, Sicily and Italy and again between Italy and India in the picture) Also why is everything so badly out of proportion? You’re telling me they can sail across an ocean, trek inland to Salem, New Hampshire, rebuild Stonehenge with perfect alignment with not just actual Stonehenge but also Beirut, but they can’t get land masses in proper proportion on their stunningly artistically detailed coins? Of which they apparently only brought seven with them?

But Wolter is A-Ok with all this and loves the whole idea of secret, nearly illegible, maps on coins. How would you even use such a tiny and imperfect image to navigate anyway? There’s so much wrong with this.

Anyway, since History Channel has more money than it know what to do with, it sends Wolter off to England to visit actual Stonehenge. We meet Dr. Henry Chapman and Wolter immediately launches into his hard sell that the Phoenicians built the American Stonehenge. Not only that but the Phoenicians actually built both Stonehenges! Wolter shows Dr. Chapman his line on Google Maps, and Dr. Chapman give him a hearty Nope.

Dr. Chapman points out several flaws in Wolter’s story, one of which being math. There’s an 800 year difference between the Phoenician culture and the building of Stonehenge. Dr. Chapman also brings up that we know Stonehenge is an ancient calendar and that it’s not surprising that since humanity is similar and is observing similar things, they would develop similar ways of tracking such things. Or what we call convergence in the field.

Predictably Wolter doesn’t like this answer, but Dr. Chapman doesn’t budge. So we cut that interview short and race back to America so we can watch the summer solstice at America’s Stonehenge.

We fade out around this point with Wolter’s insistence that these structures are built by ancient people. Wolter is now telling us that Stonehenge was somehow used for navigation, and that the people who came here were proto-Phoenicians. I guess at lest he’s adapted his story based on new information…kinda. Wolter makes a bunch of  “I believe” statements and says:

“Someone had to assemble those stones, someone with a vast knowledge of archaeoastromnomy”

Someone like Johnathan Pattee, William Goodwin, and the Stone family?

In Summary

What you really wanted to read.

There was a surprising amount in this episode, but most of it was easily debunked.

The two man cruxes of Wolter’s argument can be basically eliminated.

  1. The site known as Mystery Hill/Americans Stonehenge is out of context and comprised. This is documented by not only Goodwin’s own work but by historical photographs. Everything there has been altered, the Stonehenge, the Table, the Oracle Chamber. Walls have been built, structures have been renovated. And these changes have persisted up into the 1990’s. If there ever was a site there, it’s gone and there’s no way to get it back.
  2. Barry Fell is not a reliable translator and the Baal Stone is clearly not Phoenician. You don’t have to be an expert to see that.

Everything else about this place is just trimmings. It’s typical speculation with no evidence to support it. Even Wolter’s line through both Stonehenges is complete bunk since I can link Stonehenge with any other point on a map, two points make a line! Math!

What evidence there is consistently links the site to both Native American occupation and 18th -19th century occupation. There is nothing to support the presence of anyone else being there.

Wolter’s dismissive attitude towards the actual evidence in support of his own unsupported ideas is distressing, and is getting worse as the series goes on. Just something to keep in mind.

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Want more on this topic? Go to Reviews: America Unearthed.
Comment below or send an email to ArchyFantasies@gmail.com



N.d.    Americas Stonehenge. http://www.crystalinks.com/AmericasStonehenge.html. Accessed 1/15/2016

Feder, Kenneth
2010    Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum.  pg 10 – 12 https://books.google.com/books?id=xmDnhPNLwYwC&q=mystery+hill#v=snippet&q=mystery%20hill&f=false Accessed 1/15/16

Gilbert, Edgar<
1907    The History of Salem, N.H. Rumford Press. p. 418 https://ia601403.us.archive.org/17/items/historyofsalemnh00gilb/historyofsalemnh00gilb.pdf Accessed 1/15/2016

Starbuck, David R.
2006   The Archeology of New Hampshire: Exploring 10,000 Years in the Granite State. pgs 106-109. University of New Hampshire Press. https://books.google.com/books?id=DcKQoMp9Qv0C&pg=PR4&lpg=PR4&dq=Starbuck,+David+R.+(2006).+The+Archeology+of+New+Hampshire:+Exploring+10,000+Years+in+the+Granite+State.+University+of+New+Hampshire+Press.+ISBN+978-1-58465-562-6.&source=bl&ots=5VH1937Wgk&sig=C1NVrWpFv_d_fXEYMAOl13xO0vw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiBpLnRhMbKAhVGNj4KHT-kAUEQ6AEIHzAB#v=onepage&q&f=false Accessed 1/15/2016

Wagg, Jeff

2009    “Lie Leaching”. JREF Swift Blog. James Randi Educational Foundation. July 24,2009. http://web.archive.org/web/20151005192537/http://archive.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/647-lie-leaching.html Accessed 1/15/2016

Wright, Karen
1998    Light Elements: Yankee Doodle Druid
What were people in New Hampshire doing 4,000 years ago with a sacrificial table? Discover.http://www.discovermagazine.com Sunday Feb 01, 1998
http://discovermagazine.com/1998/feb/lightelementsyan1410 Accessed 1/15/2016

Categories: America Unearthed, Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway, History Channel, Mystery Sties That Aren't, What the Phoenicians Weren't Doing in America | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Pyramids That Are Not, The Bosnian Pyramids.

Episode 29 of the Archaeology Fantasies Podcast is live. If you haven’t given it a listen, go do it now! I apologize ahead of time for the fact that I can’t say Sam Osmanagich’s name correctly.


We’re talking about the Bosnian Pyramids.

For those who don’t know, the Bosnian Pyramids are not actual pyramids, they are a cluster of natural hills in central Bosnia and Herzegovina that started life off roughly pyramid in shape. I say they started that way because years of “excavation” on the hills has transformed them into what Sam Osmanagich, the ‘founder’ of said not-pyramids, wants them to be.

Osmanagich has decided that several of the hills in the range are actually pyramids and he’s renamed them as he sees fit. Visocica Hill, at 720 feet, is renamed the Pyramid of the Sun. Pljesevica Hill, at 350 feet, is renamed the Pyramid of the Moon. He claims there are others, a Pyramid of Love, A Pyramid of Earth, one to a Dragon, ect. I’m not entirely sure why any of them have the names that they do, but it made sense to Osmanagich, so we’ll run with it.

Osmanagich also makes the claim that there are labyrinths under the pyramids and long man-made tunnels. These tunnels supposedly connected the pyramids at one point and then filled in with sea water when the glaciers melted.

Let me state here that no professional archaeologist believes these are pyramids, calling it:

“A cruel hoax on an unsuspecting public [which] has no place in the world of genuine science (Bohannon 2006).”

That hasn’t stopped Osmanagich, who in true fringe style has tried to connect the names of actual archaeologist, geologists, and other scientists to his work. Most have either denied association with the project or been exposed as either unqualified or frauds (Rose 2006).

But what of the claims?

Aside from claiming hills are pyramids when they are clearly not, Osmanagich claims they are the oldest pyramids in the world. He says they are 12,000 years old putting their construction during a time when most of Europe was under a glacier and agriculture wasn’t really a thing yet (Woodward 2009). I’ve never really seen how he proposes prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers managed to build the largest pyramids on earth or why they would bother. He’s made a lukewarm argument that they are burial mounds, but there are no bodies associated with them.

What’s more, these incredibly advanced Hunter-Gatherers also apparently knew how to make and pour cement, and that is how they covered the sides of the pyramids (Woodward 2009). Never-mind that the geology of the hills matches that of the surrounding area, and the ‘cement’ Osmanagich is finding is actually alternating layers of conglomerate, clay and sandstone (Woodward 2009). Osmanagich’s cement idea is supported by French materials scientist, Joseph Davidovits, who also thinks the real pyramids in Egypt were made with poured concrete blocks (Woodward 2009). Because of this idea, Osmanagich instructed his workers to carve the hillside to create the impression of a stepped pyramid for the Pyramid of the Moon (Woodward 2009). So, like other fringe researchers in the past, he’s altered the area to fit his expectations, and then wants to pass it off as being authentic.

In this vein, Osmanagich has started digging in the ‘tunnels’ beneath the hills. Stating that he is going to widen these tunnels and extend them so that they will connect  witht the other pyramids (Woodward 2009),  never mind if they don’t currently. He claims that there are boulders that bear carvings that date back to 15,000 years ago, but that claim was challenged by a geologist and former employee who claimed the carvings appeared overnight, put there by another one of Osmanagich’s workers (Woodward 2009).

Yet Osmanagich is unapologetic in his blatant alteration of the area, and why shouldn’t he be?

Osmanagich says he plans to dig all the way to Visocica Hill, 1.4 miles away, adding that, with additional donations, he could reach it in as few as three years. “Ten years from now nobody will remember my critics,” he says as we start back toward the light, “and a million people will come to see what we have.” (Woodward 2009)

Osmanagich has official backing from the Bosnian Government (Woodward 2009). The Pyramid of the Sun Foundation, owned by Osmanagich, rakes in hundreds of thousands of dollars in public donations and thousands more from state-owned companies (Woodward 2009). He’s got copious amounts of attention from the media and was awarded a seat on a scientific council in Russia (Woodward 2009). Creating fake archaeology and history is quite lucrative.

All that said, Osmanagich still can’t answer basic questions about the construction of the site. Things like, where did the workers come from? Where did they live while they worked? Who fed them? How did they make the cement? Where are the mixing stations, the pouring platforms, the tools? Where is the trash from all these people living one place? Where is the graveyard for the workers that died? Who organized them? What compelled them to build? And so on, and so on, and so on.

As is so often with the fringe, they see something big and shinny, and don’t think about the details. The details that real archaeologists want, the details that are real evidence. The details that every actual archaeological site possesses. These are always lacking because they are overlooked. As Ken likes to say, you can fake an artifact, but you can’t fake a whole site. Osmanagich had already run up against this with the international archaeological community, and it’s starting to catch up to him at home as well. We’ll just wait and see were all this ends up, but I’m guessing it’s not going to end well.

In the meantime go listen to episode 29 of the Archaeology Fantasies Podcast and hear what Ken and I have to say on the matter.

If you’d like to support this blog, consider donating on Patreon.
Want more on this topic? Go to: Mystery Sites That Aren’t.
Comment below or send an email to ArchyFantasies@gmail.com


Bosnian Pyramids Website.
http://www.bosnianpyramids.org/. Accessed 2/19/16

Open Protest Letter to the Bosnian Government. written by the The European Association of Archaeologists – (EAA)
 http://www.robertschoch.net/bosnia%20eaa%20denounces%20semir%20osmanagic%20pyramid%20archaeology%20dowell%20ct.htm. Accessed 2/19/16

Woodard, Colin
The Mystery of Bosnia’s Ancient Pyramids. Smithsonian Magazine Online. December 2009. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-mystery-of-bosnias-ancient-pyramids-148990462/#6JECjwhBkxuU6aDb.99. Accessed 2/19/16

Rose, Mark
2006    Bosnian “Pyramids” Update. Archaeology Magazine Online. 14 June 2006.
http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/osmanagic/update.html. Accessed 2/19/16

John Bohannon, 2006 “Researchers Helpless as Bosnian Pyramid Bandwagon Gathers Pace”. Science. 314:1862. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/314/5807/1862.1 Accessed 2/19/16


Categories: Mystery Sties That Aren't, Podcast, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

What is Convergence in Archaeology?



The concept of convergence isn’t a new one to the multiple fields of science. In it’s most basic definition it describes the tendency of unrelated species to evolve superficially similar characteristics to deal with similar environmental issues. One of the best examples of this are wings.

Bats have wings, as do birds, some lizards, and even some squirrels, not to count all flying insects in the world. These different types of wings are all understood as being wings despite their uses. Some are true fliers, some glide, some are purely for show. However, they are all wings that were evolved by each individual species independently of any other.

The concept of convergence can be applied easily to other field of science unrelated to biology. It’s even apt to say that an idea like convergence was developed or observed in nearly every field of science, and we’ve just grouped all those ideas under the umbrella term “Convergence” making this all very meta.

How does all this apply to Archaeology?

Well, in archaeology we also recognize the phenomenon of convergence in cultures both prehistoric and modern. Perhaps one of the most recognizable example of this is pottery.

The invention of pottery is a step most prehistoric cultures made in their cultural and social development. I say most because there a a few that skipped this step and found inventive ways of using baskets and animal skins to serve the same purpose as pottery. That said, many prehistoric American cultures can be identified simply by the manufacture and decorative practices of their pottery. It is reliable enough that rough dating can be done based on the type of pottery found.

The same can be said about stone tools. Most prehistoric cultures figured out a way to shape stone into useful objects. Again I say most because there are some that used bone, bamboo, and other perishable materials instead. However, a majority of cultures moved through a stone age in reliable enough ways that the tools they left behind can be roughly dated by type and production technology

The development of these essential skills occurred at different times in different places by different people. Their development and use is so ubiquitous, that it is obvious that they were developed independently by different cultures. No one in archaeology argues that these skills were created by one supreme uber group and then disseminated through the ranks of humanity. Even the fringe groups tend to leave stone tools and pottery alone.

This trend doesn’t hold when it comes to more seemingly “advanced” skills or objects like written language, art, and megaliths.

I say seemingly here because the fringe tends to give more weight to these aspects of culture over what might be considered “everyday” aspects like tools and pottery. The fringe tends to focus on things that stand out, and that tends to be art, giant structures, and written symbols. This is folly, as the development and mastery of skills like tool making and pottery is hardly simple and is always a marker of culture. That said, let’s delve into the convergence of written language, art, and megaliths.

Written Language and Symbolism:

One of the things I see the fringe try to do is focus on prehistoric symbols, especially those used in pro-writing. Things like spirals, crossed circles, and other universal symbols. They try to use the appearance of these symbols in developing cultures all over the world as evidence of contact between them or of the presence of an uber culture. There is no reason to ever assume this, and trying to do so ignores the cultural implications of said symbols. What a spiral means in proto-Chinese is not what it means in proto-Navajo for example.

But there are always exceptions to the rule. So what happens when two symbols share a similar meaning?

This is still not a reason to assume anything other than convergence. It isn’t difficult to understand that two cultures, trying to describe the same thing, might come up with a like symbol to do so. Take for example, times when a supper nova was observed in the prehistoric past. Many (most?) cultures saw it and recorded it. Many of them used similar symbols to represent a bright, sun-like, light burst at night. Is that because aliens ran all over the world and taught the various cultures how to draw a super nova? No. It means the various cultures exposed to a similar event used similar imagery to record it.

Keep in mind that when we talk about ‘similar symbols’ we mean they have strong like characteristics. It doesn’t mean they are identical. Even when it comes to simple shapes like spirals and quartered circles, there is always variance in the form. Which only further supports the idea of convergence, as they are similar but not exactly the same, serving the same purpose, in slightly different ways.

Art and Imagery:

Most of the explanation in the Written Language and Symbolism section serves here as well. Humans, for the most part, try to replicate what they saw in nature. So for nearly every culture to have objects and images that represented recognizable animals, items, and people, is simply common sense.

Things get interesting when artistic style and interpretation comes into play. Here we begin to see stylized representations of nature, and this is where the Fringe begins to have issues. Stylized figures of birds, insects, and humans that archaeologists recognize due to the study of the related culture, get turned into fanciful jet planes, space ships, and alien men (always men) by the Fringe.

The problem the Fringe runs into is they are attempting to validate a biased idea and interpret stylized objects without understating the culture that they came from. In a void of information any conclusion can be drawn, and often is. This isn’t how archaeology works though.

Archaeologists can spend years, sometimes decades, familiarizing themselves with a culture and using that knowledge to decipher the art they find. This often includes speaking with the living decedents of a culture to understand something about how their ancestors perceived things. This way, we can form the best ideas about the art and imagery, using the best information available.

Now, all that said, there are often overlaps in imagery and art from one culture to the next. Again, it’s best to consider convergence as an explanation first, since many times it’s an attempt to recreate what is being observed in nature. Even in the instance of stylized art, it is best to consider convergence before trying to create an elaborate explanation to tie two unrelated cultures together based on one image or art object.

The other pitfall to avoid here is one the Fringe often fall into, and that is to rely on your own personal interpretation of aspects or characteristics of an object or image. Just because you personally see something that makes a figure look “Asian” or “Caucasian” doesn’t mean those characteristics are actually there. Such observations are completely subjective and often times driven by reasoning that has no place in archaeology.

Structures and Megaliths:

All of the arguments in the previous two sections hold here, and here is where we most often see the Fringe arguing for dissemination when what we’re actually seeing in convergence in a larger scale.

The most popular example of this is pyramid. The Fringe seems to love pyramids. The problem here is that what is structurally and archaeologically called a pyramid may not line up with how the Fringe wants to think of a pyramid.

A pyramid is a description of a type of structure that is cone shaped or often shaped with four sides and a flat bottom.  It is probably one of the most basic and structurally sound shapes you can build.

This is why we see this shape all over the world with a huge range of variation. From stepped pyramids, to truncated pyramids, to earth mounds, to the ‘true’ pyramids in Egypt, the term pyramid covers a variety of structures. As the shape, style, and purpose of these structures vary depending on the culture who built them, this is clearly a case of convergence. They are all similar in shape, hence the use of the term ‘pyramid’ to describe them, but their overall construction is different enough for even the untrained eye to see.

There are Always Exceptions.

Said exceptions only help prove the rule however. When we do see clear evidence of the sharing of or development of cultural traits, it helps us understand the cultures better.

Let’s look back at the basics, pottery and stone tools. We can, and do, find evidence of the development of techniques that lead to a new and different form of a tool or new and different shape of a vessel. We also see all the transitional forms moving from the ‘original’ form to the ‘new’ form. This means we can see the development of the technique in the culture that is developing it.

We also often see a jump in forms or decoration, especially but not exclusively in pottery. This sudden jump often indicates a marriage into a culture from an outside one, or direct trade between the two. In the case of marriage the tool or vessel maker often brings their own cultural techniques with them and in the case of trade the better item is often favored over another.

Both cases often serve the same purpose. We humans are practical creatures and we tend to change production habits in favor of easier and more durable techniques. We are also visual creatures, and we tend to pick the prettiest techniques as well. Hybrid forms are often observed and show how one culture is assimilating the techniques of another in over of their own.

The point here is, when one culture influence another, we usually see it in the archaeological record. When this evidence is missing and the traits being compared are different enough to be noticeable, we should always error on the side of convergence. As Dr. Mullins says, think Horses not Zebras (unless maybe you’re in the plains of southern Africa, then it’s probably ok to think the opposite).

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Categories: Archaeology, Concepts and Themes | 11 Comments

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